Rockets Close Out Minnesota, Head to Round Two: 4 Winners, 4 Losers

Trevor Ariza's defense and three-point shooting helped the Rockets get to round two.
Trevor Ariza's defense and three-point shooting helped the Rockets get to round two. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Ultimately, there wasn't a ton of doubt. Despite a hiccup in game three, the Rockets were clearly the better team in round one and they finished off the Timberwolves 122-104 to move on to round two. But, the Wolves played well, leading much of the first half, but as the Rockets have done so many times this season, they tightened up their defense, started hitting shots and blew their opponent off the floor.

It's going to be at least one more game in the OKC-Utah series because the Thunder came back from 25 down in the second half of game five to beat the Jazz. They head back to Utah for the second possible elimination game of the series while the Rockets rest and wait.


4. Youth

The Timberwolves, an early chic pick to win it all, are still young and that youth was evident throughout this series. Guys like Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, both in their first playoff series ever, were inconsistent, which is exactly what you expect from young players. But they are only going to get better and older, and they will be a team to watch over the next few seasons.

3. Double teaming James Harden.

Teams have tried everything when it comes to defending the MVP. Ultimately, nothing worked. But even when teams took the ball out of his hands via the double team, Harden, who is one of the best passers in the NBA, found the right guy and his teammates made shots. Nothing has been able to stop him yet.

2. Second halves.

The Wolves struggled to put together 48 solid minutes of basketball in this series. So did the Rockets, but Houston's firepower means they can have lulls against teams like Minnesota and still come away with wins. When you have less room for error, you have to learn to be consistent for four quarters.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns

Not for the reason you might think. Towns is one of the most brilliantly talented young players in the NBA. But, in this series, his was overmatched. To his credit he managed to adjust and get better each game, but he hasn't matured to the point where he can be consistently great. When he gets there, watch out.

click to enlarge Other than James Harden, no one was as important to either team in this series than Clint Capela. - PHOTO BY ERIC SAUSEDA
Other than James Harden, no one was as important to either team in this series than Clint Capela.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

4. Justin Verlander

The Astros ace beat the Angels Wednesday afternoon, pitching seven innings and striking out nine. On Wednesday night, he was courtside at the Rockets game sipping wine and throwing out T-shirts to the fans. Will the honeymoon ever end? Let's hope not.

3. Winning the turnover battle.

The Rockets have five turnovers. Five. That tied a franchise playoff record. The Rockets lead all teams in the playoffs with just over 8 per game. They were eleventh in the NBA for the season. Last year, they ranked 25th. The Rockets have improved in many areas this year, but none may have been as important as this one.

2. Short series vs. long series.

While the Rockets finished off their round one series in five games, the team they will face in the next round will need at least six games before coming to Houston. The longer that series goes, the better.

1. Clint Capela

There were some remarkable performances this series, all critical to beating Minnesota, but other than Harden, no one has been better for either team than Capela. The young center has come of age this season and especially in these playoffs. His play is as important to the Rockets success as anyone on the floor not named James Harden.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke